Memo to those who want to underestimate Kyle Schwarber: Do so at your risk.
That should have been apparent last fall, when Schwarber came back from a major early season knee injury and willed his way into the lineup in time for the World Series, beating even the Cubs’ own projections for his return.
Schwarber continued working in the offseason, and he arrived at spring training saying he was 100 percent and ready to go.
The 24-year-old has taken up any challenge thrown at him during his brief career after the Cubs took him in the first round of the 2014 draft.
Doubters have scoffed at Schwarber’s viability as a catcher, his preferred position. Last year’s knee injury and the fact that the Cubs have a pair of bona fide backstops will limit Schwarber’s time behind the plate.
So out to left field Schwarber will go again. The 6-foot, 235-pounder might be limited in left, but he continues to work in the outfield, and manager Joe Maddon has steadfastly maintained that Schwarber is better than advertised with the outfield glove.
Schwarber has acquitted himself well enough in the Cactus League so far, both in the field and at the plate, where he was 6 for 22 with two triples and a home run through Sunday.
What the Cubs really want to see is a full year of Schwarber and his offensive potential.
He played in only two regular-season games last year because of the knee injury he suffered in the second series of the season. That injury came as the result of a collision in the outfield.
In only 69 games in 2015, Schwarber put up a line of .246/.355/.487 with 16 home runs and 43 RBIs. For his postseason career, he has a line of .364/.451/.727 for an OPS of 1.178 with 32 total bases, five home runs and 10 RBIs.
This year, Schwarber will take up a new challenge, as he likely will be the Cubs’ primary leadoff hitter.
“It’s another spot in the lineup,” he said early in camp. “I think it would be a cool spot. You’ve got some guys behind you in Kris (Bryant) and Rizz (Anthony Rizzo) and (Ben) Zobrist and all those other guys. If I’m there, I’m there.”
Schwarber might not look like the “prototypical” leadoff hitter, but the description and definition of a leadoff hitter have changed over the years. He is not a speed guy who will steal many bases, but the Cubs like his ability to see pitches and get on base at his career clip of .353.
“I don’t want him to change anything,” Maddon said. “His DNA is to see pitches, accept walks, work good at-bats.”
When Schwarber returned last fall, he went 7 for 17 in the World Series with a double, two RBIs and three walks. He will continue to wear the knee brace for the foreseeable future. But he said there was no mental hurdle coming back.
“I don’t think there was really a psychological hurdle,” he said. “I wanted to be 100 percent as soon as I came in. These last couple months of being out here and doing my work have been good.”
Schwarber might catch on occasion, and he might be taken out of left field late in games for a defensive replacement. Beyond that, Maddon said he is mindful of all that Schwarber went through during his rehab.
“Pretty significant injury he came off,” the manager said. “We all know what he did in the World Series last year. People are going to look at that and base their entire Schwarber world around that last two games. But he’s still coming off a really significant injury, and we have to be very careful with that.
“I would like to see him play an entire season. It would be ... nice to get a full season of Kyle Schwarber. So that’s the most important thing to get out of this.”